Provided by Independent.ie

I remember the hush-hush and security around the first sighting of the previous Audi A4 model. They even took our phones in case we’d go screaming to the world about it. Eh! sorry; it wasn’t that sensational a debut.

Indeed, the surprise was it was so underwhelming: a muted evolution of the previous. We wondered what the fuss was all about.

Don’t get me wrong: carmakers are entitled to make noise about their brand new model. Just as you and I are entitled to take it all with a pinch of salt and ask what the fuss is all about? Thank goodness there wasn’t nearly as much hype around the latest revamp of the A4.

It is hard to believe it is four years since that hush-hush unveiling ceremony.

It’s not hard to believe this latest model is a minor evolution in terms of looks. However, new-engine diesel power goes from 150bhp to 163bhp and it has mild-hybrid technology to help cut emissions and improve fuel economy.

Beneath the skin and in the cabin lie a fair range of newer elements.

Outside, they have brushed up front, side and rear design. The front is an improvement for sure.

They have also updated the cabin and infotainment interface to good effect, I think.

The new MMI infotainment system with a single 10.1in screen can be operated either by touch or voice. It was clear, concise and easy to use. Gone is the rotary controller of old.

Overall, there’s evidence of many little things being upgraded with a quality of fit and finish that’s second to none.

Audi do ‘gradual’ extremely well. It brings criticism and praise in equal measure. The world of motoring spins faster than ever these days. What is fresh and fizzing one moment is yesterday’s faded star the next.

I, and others, have been a critic of Audi’s conservative styling (especially of the A4) for many years and I’m not going to stop now, but you’d have to give them credit for sticking to their guns and deciding there are areas other than looks to work on.

I just happen to think good styling and good cars are not mutually exclusive. That’s why I like the look of the Mercedes C-Class – a direct rival. And why I like the energetic feel of the BMW 3-series when I drive it.

While sitting in the A4 last week didn’t change my views on that front, it did make me focus on some facts. The A4 has been a hugely popular car for many years. They must be doing something right to attain that level of purchase.

After a few good stints on the open road, I came to enjoy the fact that it is a rock-solid car with the feel and comfort of something you’d want for the long drive.

So are the rivals, of course, but if straightforward consistency is what you want, here’s a car for you.

A great measure of a car’s popularity is the level of demand for it second-hand. One look at the statistics for used-imports alone tells you A4s are mighty popular.

So there is not much point in me saying it could do with improved styling (it could), that others have caught up in major areas (they have) and in some cases surpassed what they’ve done to the cabin. Or that the diesel engine can be matched by a Beemer or a Merc (it can -Mercedes has invested a fortune in a new family of engines).

But out on the road, in fairly miserable conditions, it was an excellent drive. I liked the way that 2-litre engine went about its business. Nice and quiet, it was unfussy and frugal. It’s the sort of engine that if they kill off diesel, I will miss it for the way power comes on stream with such reassuring certainty when you press the accelerator, or how that sturdy hum at mid-range speeds makes you feel you could go on driving for hours (and not have to worry about battery range).

The great thing about the A4 – and it is a compliment edged with criticism – is that there were few surprises. It largely did exactly what I expected, drive in, drive out. It didn’t thrill but it never faltered.

The only major minus on my drives was the rattling sound that came through from ripples on road surfaces. A function of the tyres mostly, I believe, but it has no place in an executive saloon.

The other complaint from passengers was that the seating was too hard. I loved mine. Plenty of rear-seat room by the way.

Overall it is hard to really fault the ‘new’ A4 but to praise it, you have to buy into how well it goes so unfussily about its business.

Facts & Figures

Audi A4

2-litre saloon:

S Line S-Tronic: front-wheel-drive, 163bhp diesel.

Price: €49,570; options €6,933.

Spec includes: 19in alloys, leather sports seats, sports suspension, parking sensors, reversing camera, heated front seats, 3-zone climate control, drive select, 10.1in t/screen, cruise control, Voice control.

Options: virtual cockpit Plus, phone box, sunroof.

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